September 18, 2018 / 7:41 AM / a year ago

Uzbekistan appoints HSBC banker to run debt office, readies Eurobond

LONDON, Sept 18 (Reuters) - Uzbekistan has appointed HSBC banker Odilbek Isakov to head its new debt-management office, with an eye to issuing its first Eurobond next year, the ministry of finance said on Tuesday.

The move takes Uzbekistan a step closer to attracting foreign capital to its debt markets, a process that started last year when President Shavkat Mirziyoyev began seeking an international sovereign credit rating — a necessary precursor to a Eurobond.

Isakov, an Uzbek national, previously a director in HSBC’s sovereign bond origination team, has been named adviser to the minister and head of the new Sovereign and Corporate Debt Division, the ministry of finance said.

Isakov will oversee the once-closed nation’s efforts to obtain a credit rating and issue a Eurobond. HSBC declined to comment on Isakov’s appointment.

Uzbekistan is targeting a roadshow for the bond in the first quarter of next year, the person said. Uzbek officials had previously said the debut Eurobond would be issued this year.

Uzbekistan’s neighbour Tajikistan, rated six notches below investment grade, issued its first $500 million Eurobond in September 2017, paying 7.125 percent for 10-year cash. The Uzbek bond would have to be at least $500 million to be eligible for JP Morgan’s EMBI global emerging debt benchmark.

A source also said JP Morgan had been added to the list of banks that would advise on the issue, in addition to Citi. Citi and JP Morgan declined to comment.

Isakov’s appointment would mark a step forward in Uzbekistan’s engagement with markets. Last September, it liberalised its exchange-rate regime and kicked off various reforms that have unlocked funding from lenders such as the World Bank and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

The Tashkent Stock Exchange has a market capitalisation of just $1.6 billion. Foreigners are permitted to invest, but they need central bank permission to buy shares in local banks.

Ratings agencies Moody’s and S&P Global said they did not comment on the ratings process. Fitch said it does not comment on countries it does not rate. (Reporting by Virginia Furness, additional reporting by Mukhammadsharif Mamatkulov in Tashkent, editing by Larry King)

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